Cover-Ups, Watergate and 9/11
People talk about “the Watergate cover-up,” referring usually to the White House’s attempts to cover-up any involvement in the burglaries at the Watergate complex. It is taken for granted that this cover-up failed and, as a result, Richard Nixon resigned the presidency to avoid certain impeachment and conviction. Now, this is quite correct regarding Watergate but it is also quite limited because there were several cover-ups going on during the Watergate scandal and not all of them failed.
For example, John Dean had his own cover-up, which was successful in hiding his role in initiating the Watergate burglaries as well as hiding his own obstructions of justice as he helped Nixon try to cover up the activities of his, Nixon’s, allies. E. Howard Hunt covered up his connections to the CIA, as did John McCord as well, both of these cover-ups were somewhat successful. Alexander Haig covered up his connections with Bob Woodward of the Washington Post, as well as his role in a military spy-ring that was spying on Nixon and Kissinger. According to more than one account, Haig also successfully covered up his role in getting Nixon out of the presidency, which has been referred to as “Haig’s Coup.” And, of course, Woodward and Bernstein used “Deep Throat” to cover up their source(s) and to lend credence to what often were fallacious news stories. Woodward also covered up his previous connections to Haig, when Woodward was a naval officer briefing Haig as a member of the National Security Council.
So when it’s said after 9/11 that there was a cover-up, it behooves us to ask: Was there just one cover-up or several? Based on what happened during Watergate, we should expect to find multiple cover-ups. For example, it is clear that the CIA covered up its pre-attack actions and decisions. They did not inform the FBI that two of the eventual hijackers, who had clear ties to Al Qaeda, were in the United States legally and had been since 2000. This led one FBI agent, Ali Soufan, to say immediately after the attacks when he learned the CIA knew of these people: “They knew, they fucking knew!” Obviously, the agency did its best to cover up their actions.
Moreover, the NSA covered up its pre-attack actions as well, actions that included scrapping a program – Thin Thread – that would have stood an excellent chance of identifying potential terrorists and stopping the attacks. And, of course, it’s also clear that the Bush White House covered up their pre-attack indifference and disinterest in the possibility that the US was about to be attacked. Further, by drawing to retaliation and prevention, the Bush administration shifted the focus away from accountability, from determining and assigning blame. After resisting such accountability for as long as it could, the Bush administration agreed to a commission to “investigate,” disguising this part of its cover-up as an “investigation.” From its outset, the commission announced that it wasn’t interested in accountability, that is, with determining who or which agencies had failed. Obviously, this was part of the White House cover-up.
But an even more interesting question is: What was being covered up? That is, was the cover up following the 9/11 attacks covering up failure or success? The most common view is that the cover-ups were hiding failure(s). That is, one common view, widely shared, is that the CIA and the Saudis were conducting a covert operation of one kind or another, perhaps an operation to penetrate Al Qaeda. But this operation got away from them or the Al Qaeda members being “run” double-crossed the CIA and the Saudis, with disastrous results.
But it is also possible – although horrifying to contemplate perhaps – that what was being covered up was a success. That is, the joint CIA/Saudi operation did what its creators wanted it to do, viz., change American politics in radical ways by creating “a Pearl Harbor” kind of event. This event would allow for the unleashing of forces that had been leashed to a degree thought dangerous by more than a few powerful people and/or organizations embedded among US elites. Just as George H.W. Bush’s Iraq war was said to have cured “the Vietnam syndrome” infecting the US, so too 9/11 and its aftermath may be said to have brought about “the new world order” Papa Bush had promised but could not deliver, while his son could. In George Bush’s version of Christianity, it is recognized that it’s the son who redeems the world of sin, not the father. And Bush told his minister that he was seeking the presidency because God told him that “something was going to happen” that he, Bush, was called upon to deal with. On 9/11, “something” did happen and, as a result, as Thomas Paine said (without any religious overtones) we could “begin the world anew.”
Such an event, however, was best, most prudently covered over as a failure because to see it as a success was too horrifying for the multitudes to comprehend. Besides, even as a failure, that event could be used to make the existing world over, to eradicate evil, as Bush liked to say. Even as failure, 9/11 could be used as an opportunity, even seen as a gift, as that event revealed the error of our ways, our previous ways. We had, for example, previously refused to go to “the dark side,” but now we knew better. We should, even must embrace evil to defeat evil.
Regardless of whether it was covering over success or failure, however, the 9/11 cover up worked, just as several of the cover-ups that occurred during the Watergate scandal worked. As a result of the success of some of these cover ups, political careers were protected, even enhanced, both in the case of Watergate and of 9/11. And, more importantly, it is fair to say that as a result of these cover-ups, the character of American politics was changed in significant, even radical ways.